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A parliamentary route through Uluru impasse

  • 16 October 2018


The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the only realistic starting point at this stage in Australian history for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. That's because after a series of Indigenous dialogues conducted under the auspices of the Referendum Council, all other options for constitutional recognition were rejected by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates at Uluru.

There is absolutely no point in proceeding with constitutional recognition other than recognition which is sought by those being recognised. It would be a waste of the parliament's time to consider any mode of constitutional recognition other than 'the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution'.

A First Nations Voice was rejected by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on 28 August 2015. After Uluru, it was rejected by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 26 October 2017, when he was joined by his Ministers Brandis and Scullion stating, 'The government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.'

It was rejected again by Prime Minister Scott Morrison early in his prime ministership on 26 September 2018, when he said, 'I don't support a third chamber — People can dress it up any way they like but I think two chambers is enough ... But the implications of how this works frankly lead to those same conclusions. I share the view that I don't think that's a workable proposal.'

Despite what Messrs Turnbull and Morrison have said, I reject the classification of the First Nations Voice as a third chamber. Still, given that the proposal has been rejected by three Coalition prime ministers over the last three years (including the two most recent prime ministers since the Uluru statement was published), the question now is: what is the best way to proceed?

All commentators have accepted the four principles of the 2012 Expert Panel which were formulated to guide the assessment of proposals for constitutional recognition, including that each proposal 'must be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums'. With strong prime ministerial opposition backed by the ministry, there is presently no prospect of this proposal being supported by a strong majority 'from across the political and social spectrums'.

To move from Uluru to constitutional recognition, there are six possible routes for consideration by the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional